10 Years as a "Digital Nomad"
[This post originally appeared as a LinkedIn article on 18 October 2022.]
IN JANUARY 2023, I WILL CELEBRATE 10 YEARS SINCE THE LAST TIME I HAD TO GO INTO AN OFFICE FOR WORK. I guess I was a "digital nomad" long before the global pandemic made it a popular occupation.
For the first five years, this new lifestyle was completely unintentional and simply a byproduct of my work projects at the time. However, in January 2018 I made a conscious decision to shape my professional life in such a way that I could "live and work anywhere in the world". It has required discipline, but I am quite happy with the results.
Not being tied to a specific geographic location has allowed me the freedom to be much more productive than I otherwise could have been. During these ten years:
I launched 3 new for-profit ventures and 1 new nonprofit organization.
I worked with dozens of amazing clients, providing them consulting, advisory, and Board services.
I mentored and was inspired by hundreds of talented entrepreneurs, investors, change-makers, philanthropists, explorers, scientists, educators, students, entertainers, artists, and storytellers. All of them spread out across the world.
I lived in 8 homes in 4 cities in 3 countries ... and visited 20 more!
My love for the oceans allowed me to enjoy them from the surface on sailboats, speed boats, cruise ships, research vessels, and the occasional jet ski. I also spent hours below the surface by snorkeling, free diving, scuba diving, and even submersible diving!
My life-long passion for space allowed me to enjoy flights in aerobatic planes, private jets, helicopters, and even a micro-gravity parabolic flight. I also got to watch rockets launch into space, including one suborbital flight that took several of my friends to space and back!
I don't know if I could've accomplished even a fraction of these experiences had I been tied down to a particular location, office, or desk.
However, I do know two things:
This life style is NOT for everyone. For every one person who has told me "I wish I could do the same thing" I have probably had ten people tell me "That sounds too lonely for me" or "That sounds like too much instability for me." [The latter is a fair point, but I comfort myself by one of my friends recently telling me, "I've never thought of you as 'unstable' but rather as 'embracing life at the pace of change'." I'm going to stick with that!]
This work style is NOT for every profession. I believe that geographic co-location is necessary whenever a company needs to build or deliver a physical product or when a business needs to deliver certain services, such as restaurants, tourism, live entertainment, transportation, healthcare, etc. In these instances, it is typically not possible for workers to be "digital nomads", at least not full-time. Unfortunately, this covers a huge chunk of the global economy.
Bottom line: I feel extremely fortunate and grateful that I am able to do this.
Of course, there are many challenges to being a "digital nomad", many of which have been well-documented under our post-pandemic reality. For me, it has been interesting to re-calibrate my definition of what it means to be a "company". I have also learned valuable lessons about how to lead and inspire teams in a virtual world, especially when you may have members of your team who you may never actually meet in person.
However, I believe that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
From a work perspective, I get to work with the best, brightest, and most fitting people in the world, instead of the best, brightest, and most fitting people in my neighborhood, city, or geographic surroundings.
From a personal perspective, I get to live in whatever location makes sense for how I want to spend my non-work time on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, instead of wherever my "job" or "employer" requires me to live.
Again, the "digital nomad" life is not ideal for everyone, for every business, or even for every situation. However, after walking ten years down this path, I am confident that it works for me ... at least for now. Hopefully it can work for many of my friends and colleagues, too.